Smokey Bear Hug Warms the Heart of Young Virginia Boy Battling Cancer

Michael R. Williams
George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, U.S. Forest Service
March 25th, 2013 at 8:15PM

Six-year-old Nathan Norman counts Smokey Bear as one of his new best friends. The Rustburg, Va., boy recently met Smokey and a number of wildland firefighters and law enforcement officers from the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests as part of his hobby of reaching out to these first responders for cards and letters of support.

Nathan, diagnosed with brain cancer at 2 and with spinal cancer at 4, has spent much of his life in and out of hospitals.

Before the holidays, Nathan was asked what he wanted for Christmas. He loves firefighters and police officers, so he asked if they would send him cards. Word spread quickly of the young boy’s request, and the response has been an overwhelming outpouring of support.

Firefighters, police officers and emergency medical service providers from all 50 states and across the globe have sent their well wishes. Many personal visits followed the cards. The response was so great that the Norman family tapped help from a liaison to assist with scheduling visits, which included Secret Service agents who offered a special invitation:  Visit the U.S. Capitol for President Obama’s inauguration.

Smokey Bear, popular among young and old alike, also paid a visit. Smokey led Nathan and his three siblings as they toured a Forest Service wildfire engine. The children smiled and giggled as they donned firefighter equipment, carried a fire hose and operated the engine’s overhead lights.

Nathan used a radio to talk to a George Washington – Jefferson law enforcement officer as part of the role playing visit and exchange.

“Nathan, what’s your situation?” asked John Price, a law enforcement officer on the forest, who radioed from his law enforcement patrol car about 20 yards away from the little boy.

“Is there a fire?” Nathan responded, dressed in firefighter jacket, boots, hat and radio gear.

“There is one nearby. Are you nearby?” Price radioed back.

“Yes,” Nathan promptly responded, imagining how he could help.

“You know, we were on this mission to cheer Nathan but his enthusiasm and resilient spirit warmed our hearts just as much,” Price said.

“Day to day, we’re on call to help the forest with… planning and maintenance programs to help keep our forests healthy and resilient for a wide variety of recreation and other opportunities for the public’s enjoyment,” said Kyle Smith, the assistant fire management officer on the forest. After all the picture taking, the hugs and the high fives from Nathan, I think we all came away with a renewed appreciation for the simple things in life.”

The Norman family keeps supporters updated on Nathan’s progress through regular updates to their website.